Commission tables action plan on urban mobility

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The European Commission’s long-awaited Urban Mobility Action Plan was adopted yesterday (30 September) in a move designed to help local and national authorities make urban travel “easier, greener and better organised”.

EU Transport Commissioner Antonio Tajani stressed that the action plan “respects entirely the idea of subsidiarity. We don’t want to impose anything to anybody”.

The action plan encourages cities to exchange information and good practices, eventually leading to a “set of voluntary commitments”. 

The plan proposes 20-odd actions, addressing issues such as: 

  • Better travel information through links between national, regional and local travel planners;
  • access rules for green, environmental zones;
  • passenger rights in urban transport;
  • research and demonstration projects on lower- and zero-emission vehicles for urban public transport, and; 
  • energy-efficient driving. 

No new funding accompanies the proposed actions. The Commission notes that “it is not the task of the EU to fill the gaps that authorities at local, regional and national level leave when they have to re-consider their financial interventions in urban mobility, be it for strategic reasons or due to the economic crisis”. 

Meanwhile, the EU executive plans to assess the sector’s future funding needs and streamline its existing funding instruments – the European Investment Bank, the Structural and Cohesion Funds and the Framework Programme for Research and Development – with market needs and policy objectives.

"Cities will only realise their economic potential if we ensure people and goods can more easily move to, from and within them," said Paul Bevan, secretary-general of EuroCities, welcoming the action plan. He also stressed the importance of tackling emissions from urban transport, which he said represent a total of 40%. 

Mayor of Budapest Gabor Demszky stressed that actions stemming from the plan "must take into account the diversity of Europe's cities," allowing them to choose mobility measures that meet their circumstances. "The framework must enable, not dictate, solutions. Nor must it conflict with successful schemes that are already running," he added.

The International Association of Public Transport  (UITP) welcomed the fact that "no legislative instrument has been proposed".

"The way chosen by the European Commission to develop guidelines, toolboxes and platforms for the exchange of experience is the right way forward and we are committed to supporting this process," said the president of UITP's EU committee, Tony Depledge.

The European members of UITP stressed the need for "fair pricing of urban mobility that integrates the 'polluter pays' principle".

Meanwhile, EuroCommerce Secretary-General Xavier Durieu warned that "in these times of financial uncertainty, the internalisation of external costs is not adequate. It will lead to higher transport costs which will be passed down the supply chain - ultimately to the cost of the high-street shopper". 

Michael Cramer, transport spokesman for the Greens/EFA  group in the European Parliament, argued that the action plan is "incompatible with the EU's own targets on improving road safety and tackling climate change". 

"The question of road accidents in urban areas goes completely unanswered," he said, while the plan "fails to address urban traffic, which accounts for 70% of greenhouse gas emissions in cities".

Cramer argued that EU transport support is "still heavily biased towards road, which receives 60% of financing, compared to 20% for rail and 0.9% for bicycle infrastructure. 90% of all car trips in cities are shorter than 6km, ideal distances for using public transport, cycling or walking, yet the Commission's plan offers no measures that would make a real difference to urban mobility". 

European rail industry lobby UNIFE called for "concrete emission reduction targets for the entire [transport] sector" and policies in support of modal shift. Such policies would "range from increased investments in new and existing railway infrastructures to adequate charging and taxation policies," UNIFE stated.

Following a broad consultation on its Urban Transport Green Paper, the EU executive was due to present an action plan by October 2008. 

Sources told EURACTIV that while the action plan had been ready for a long time, it was held back by Commission President José Manuel Barroso. Concerned about his re-appointment, Barroso did not want to publish the document due to concerns by Germany that the plan would transfer more powers to Brussels. 

Regional elections took place in Germany in June and general elections took place last weekend.

  • 2010-2013: Actions launched.
  • 2012: Commission to review progress made and assess the need for further action. 

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